Brendan O’Leary is an Irish and US citizen, and since 2003 has been the Lauder Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author, co-author and co-editor of 22 books; and the author or co-author of over 120 articles or chapters in peer-reviewed journals and university presses, as well as numerous other forms of publication. He is the inaugural winner of the Juan Linz prize of the International Political Science Association which will be presented to him in Istanbul in 2016, for contributions to the study of multinational societies, federalism and power-sharing.
Brendan is the Series Editor of National and Ethnic Conflict in the 21st Century, published by the University of Pennsylvania Press. O’Leary has been a political and constitutional advisor to the United Nations, the European Union, the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq, the Governments of the UK and Ireland, and to the British Labour Party during the Irish peace process. He has a BA honors from the University of Oxford in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (1981, first class), and his PhD thesis won the Robert McKenzie Memorial Prize at the London School of Economics and Political Science in 1988.
O’Leary was born in Cork, Ireland. His childhood was spent in Nigeria, and his teenage years in Sudan and in Northern Ireland, where he attended the grammar school, St MacNissi’s College, Garron Tower. He won the Irish Times/Trinity College Dublin all-Ireland best individual speaker prize in school debating in 1975, and the Joint Association of Classical Teachers prize for first place in Advanced level Ancient History in 1976. He also won an open scholarship to Keble College Oxford in 1977, where he was tutored by Larry Siedentop, the scholar of Tocqueville and the European Union, and by the economist Paul Collier, with whom he remains in amicable disagreement. O’Leary wrote his PhD thesis at the London School of Economics & Political Science. Supervised by the late Professor T.J. Nossiter, it was examined by Professors Ernest Gellner and Nicos Mouzelis, who nominated it for the Robert McKenzie Memorial Prize for the best PhD at LSE presented in 1988. It was published as The Asiatic Mode of Production: Oriental Despotism, Historical Materialism and Indian History, with a Foreword by the late Ernest Gellner.
Between 1983 and 2003, O’Leary was on the faculty of the London School of Economics & Political Science, where he was successively Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, Reader and Professor of Political Science. He was the first elected head of the LSE Government Department (1998-2001), and an elected Academic Governor (2000-1). He has been a visiting professor of political science at Uppsala, Sweden, the University of Western Ontario, Canada, and between 2012 and 2016 he is a visiting Professor of Political Science at Queen’s University Belfast.
O’Leary’s academic career has been regularly combined with constitutional advisory work:
• He was a political advisor to the British Labour Shadow Cabinet on Northern Ireland between 1987-8 and 1996-7, advising Kevin McNamara and the late Marjorie (“Mo”) Mowlam, shadow Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland. He advised Irish, British, and American ministers and officials, and the Irish-American Morrison delegation during the Northern Ireland peace process, appeared as an expert witness before the US Congress, and was a guest at the White House in 1994, 1995 and 1998. His ideas on power-sharing are said to have been influential during the Irish peace process. His work with John McGarry on police reform was singled out in the press for influencing the independent commission on police reform which reported in 1999.
• He has been a constitutional advisor for the European Union and the United Nations in the promotion of the confederal and federal re-building of Somalia, and for the United Kingdom’s Department of International Development in consultancies on power-sharing in coalition governments in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa, and in Nepal.
• For the United Nations he was a contributing consultant to its 2004 United Nations Human Development Report on Culture and Liberty, and in 2009-2010 he was seconded to the UN as the Senior Advisor on Power-Sharing in the Standby Team of the Mediation Support Unit of the Department of Political Affairs. In that capacity he had field experience in numerous conflict-sites, including in Sudan, South Sudan, Nepal and Kyrgyzstan.
• Since 2003 he has regularly been an international constitutional advisor to the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq, assisting in the negotiation of the Transitional Administrative Law (2004); electoral systems design (2004-5); the Constitution of Iraq (2005); and the draft Constitution of the Kurdistan Region (2005-). He has also been an expert witness on Iraq and Kurdistan to branches of the US Government, and to the United Kingdom’s Iraq Commission.